Jigsaw puzzle from outer space divides scientistsView(s):
Lanka’s coloured rain and falling rocks draw conflicting views from experts, writes Nadia Fazlulhaq
Since the skies over Sri Lanka started raining “colours” and dropping rock fragments across the country, scientists have been scratching their heads to explain the strange “alien” phenomena. Some claim these came from outer space, while others say these originated within the earth’s atmosphere.
It all started with the shower of “red” rain that fell on Moneragala and Polonnaruwa in November last year. In December, “yellow rain” startled residents in Polonnaruwa, Medirigirya, Welikanda, Minneriya, Kekirawa and Magulpokuna. Not long after, showers of”blue rain” were observed in Saliyapura and Anuradhapura, and “green rain”fell in Matale. Recently”black” rain was reported from Mahiyanganaya and areas in the Uva province.
As if that was not enough, while the skies were raining red, a large meteorite-like rock fell in a rice field in Aralaganwila, in the district of Polonnaruwa. The rock was found by a farmer on December 29.
“The combination of red rain and a meteor is unique,”said Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham, in the UK. “It is possible the red rain cells were dispersed into the troposphere by the disintegrating meteorite and seeded the rain clouds,” he told the Sunday Times.
In 2001 and 2009, red rain fell in Kerala, South India. Dr. Wickremasinghe and Dr. Anil Samaranayake, director of the Medical Research Institute, wrote two papers on the subject which were published in the Journal of Cosmology. Dr. Wickremasinghe said the red algal-type cell identified in the red rain could have come from a comet fragment entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
“A large piece piece of comet crust carrying this varied microbiota appears to have entered the atmosphere and fragmented into many pieces,” Prof. Wickremasinghe said. Fragments from the meteorite that fell on Araganwila were sent to Professor Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist working for NASA. The scientist confirmed the rock was a meteorite, and an unusual one at that.
“Professor Hoover examined the sample, using the most sophisticated equipment at the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. He has confirmed the presence of a large number of diatom types, some of which are not recognised as terrestrial forms,” Prof. Wickremasinghe said.
Other scientists, however, insist the coloured rains and meteor pieces that have been raining down on Sri Lanka are not “extraterrestrial.”
“The concentrated red particles were contaminated with trentepohlia algae,” said Dr. D. L. Jayaratne, senior lecturer, Department of Microbiology, University of Kelaniya. “The coloured particles are a lichen. Lichen is a local organism, not from outer space. Lichens are sensitive to air pollution, and these rains were reported in the dry zone, which has low pollution.”
Lichens grow thickly in the dry zone, and when strong winds and heavy rains come after a long dry spell, the lichens are released into the atmosphere, Dr. Jayaratne said. The lichens are not toxic, nor do they cause allergies, but it would be advisable not to drink water containing the algae, he said.
Other scientists also rejected the idea that the red rain was a carrier of extra-terrestrial life. ”There is no link between coloured rain and meteor fragments,”said Professor Chandana Jayaratne, a senior lecturer in physics at the University of Colombo.
“When Kerala experienced red rain, there were no falling meteors. We tested some of the so-called meteorite fragments that were found in Sri Lanka recently and we concluded that these are rock particles caused by lightning strikes,” said Prof. Jayaratne, a consultant on Astronomy and Space Applications at the Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies. I have more than 200 kilograms of real meteor fragments found in Sri Lanka. Some of these have been sent to NASA for confirmation.”
Samples of the Aralaganwila rock were sent to the Geology Department of the University of Peradeniya. Rohana Chandrajith, professor in geology, said the samples were tested and confirmed they were not meteorite fragments. “This is the material that results when a piece of rock is subjected to a lightning strike. The high-temperature lightning strike causes the meteorite look.”
The professor said the samples contained quartz, a common mineral in terrestrial soil and rocks, but not in meteorite fragments.
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